We all know dogs do silly things, but nothing is quite a bizarre as witnessing a pup repeatedly lick and nibble at his own toes. Those fuzzy paws have trekked all over, on surfaces of questionable hygiene, and yet your pup is licking happily away. Dogs use their mouths the way humans use hands, meaning that if there is an agitated part of their body, instead of scratching it with their fingers the way we do, dogs bite or lick themselves to alleviate the inflamed area. Though this may seem like lunacy to us, there are several reasonable possibilities for why your dog may resort to paw licking and chewing.
Possible reasons why dogs lick or chew their paws
Itchiness: One of the main reasons why dogs bite or lick their feet is for the simple reason that they are itchy. The padded souls of a dog’s feet are continually subjected to surfaces of all temperatures and textures. Your dog’s feet could be itchy because he went walking on wood chip tanbark and has some small slivers that are uncomfortable to him. Other cause for itchiness might occur when dogs spend a lot of time in the grass, as genetically modified weed-resistant blades can make small, itchy cuts in your dog’s paws.
Or perhaps there is a briar between his toes that he is trying to get out, or his feet are itching because he is tired from running around all day and this is the best he can do for a foot massage to relieve the aching. Weather also can affect whether or not your dog has itchy feet. Dryness in a dog’s paws can also cause cracking and itching, which can occur in dry summers or in overheated indoor weather during wintertime.
Allergies: Your dog might be biting at his paws because of an allergic reaction, either to his food or something else in his environment. Itchy skin and feet is not uncommon when a dog is eating food that contains high levels of corn, wheat, and grains which are often linked to auto immune diseases and pet allergies. If your dog consistently is chewing and licking his paws, it is probably time to reassess the diet, and switch to reliable hypoallergenic food products. Inhalant allergies, such as airborne allergens in plants, grasses and pollens might be making your dog generally itchy as well, and could be treated with the use of antihistamines as recommended by your vet.
Pests or Infections: Pesticides, fleas, or mites could be another cause for the biting. Dogs use their teeth as a way of warding off the crawly feeling on the paws and between toes. Another option is a bacterial infection or fungal infections which occasionally can develop on feet exposed to contaminated surfaces. In either case, pest-killing ointments and antifungal/bacterial medications could solve the problem.
Behavioral issues: Some dogs do have nervous habits, causing them to incessantly lick and bite one area. If they have anxiety they might express fear-based behavior by licking and biting a certain place over and over again. The distinguishing factor here is that dogs with OCD will usually just behave that way to one area, such as only biting one foot instead of all four of them. In other cases, dogs can also lick or chew their paws out of boredom, and are in need of playing, training and activity.
If your dog still does not seem to leave those paws alone, it might be time to put on an Elizabethan collar on him, or go see a veterinarian dermatologist to help diagnose what the specific problem with his paws might be. In the mean time, try to prevent your dog from chewing or licking his paws so that he will not develop acral lick dermatitis, since the skin can become infected. Always be sure to get professional advice from a vet if the problem persists.